The Dog Doesn’t Die

Book reviews & random thoughts

Does the Dog Die? A Brief Review of The Marrowbone Marble Company, by Glenn Taylor

I had distinctly mixed feelings about this book, which started off strong but got twisted around itself with too many characters and a theme that was hammered at relentlessly. Glenn Taylor is brilliant writer, and there are moments of great literature in The Marrowbone Marble Company, but the story also has a great capacity to annoy.

In summary: Loyal Ledford is a thoughtful young man, orphaned in childhood, who works in a West Virginia glass factory. He goes off to WWII, is traumatized at Guadalcanal, returns to the glass factory, marries, and stops an excessive-drinking habit after befriending Don Staples, a likable and wise preacher. He also becomes friends with Mack Wells, a black man at the factory, which is noteworthy because inter-racial friendships were viewed with great suspicion at that time. After being told in a dream that he should make marbles, Loyal establishes a utopian community in which he does just that with the help of Mack, Don, and his wife, Rachel. And while good often triumphs over evil in this story, it’s usually a close call.

So … I once had a friend who published several books (and lost a lot of her friends once she suddenly expected us to behave like mindlessly approving fans). For a long time, I was one of her beta-readers, which led me to realize that authors often have an encyclopedic knowledge of their characters and are baffled when their readers don’t. But we don’t. We don’t retain all the myriad details assigned to each character, especially considering that a lot of that detail never makes it into the published book.

I don’t know that Glenn Taylor understands that. The Marrowbone Marble Company had way too many characters, mostly male, a large number of which weren’t memorable and didn’t have compelling individual story lines. The first characters – Loyal Ledford, Mack Wells, Rachel Ledford, the Bonecutter twins, and a few others – were well-drawn and multi-dimensional. Later characters not so much, as if they were plopped in to carry some small portion of the plot but otherwise weren’t real people. Characters should seem like real people. Most of these don’t.

The other issue I had with this book was that Taylor kept pounding and pounding on his themes. Yeah, I not only get it, I already knew it: racism is bad. It’s a worthy theme, but Taylor badly overplayed it, which is particulary frustrating when he’s a good enough writer to have handled it well. He should have stuck with a few key characters and taken us into the civil rights movement by showing us more depth in how these few individuals confronted the problems of racism in their daily lives. A single inter-racial romance would have much more impact than Taylor’s enormous cast did.

I can’t honestly give a recommendation for or against this book. If the story appeals to you, keep in mind that the writing is good and Taylor does know how to keep a reader’s attention. But it helps to have an e-reader, so that you can search for character names to find out who’s who. You’ll need that feature.

As for the animals in the book, there is are no well-developed animal characters, either. A few animals get into unpleasant situations, possibly including death, but they’re all so weakly portrayed that a super-sensitive reader would likely cringe and keep going.

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October 10, 2011 Posted by | Book Reviews, families, friendship, Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment